My favourite verse in scripture is Isaiah 41:10 -
Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
It's been my favourite since I first became a Christian. It has comforted and guided me over the years - it walked with me through Ottawa's cold streets, carried me to the beauties of Zambia, and held my hand through the joys and sorrows of my life with Patrick.
I never noticed until tonight how stuffed it is with Christmas.
On that first Christmas night, when the angel announced Jesus' birth to the shepherds, he began with those words, "Fear not." Of course, there's the specific instance of them being frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel, which would make any of us afraid, but I think the angel's "fear not" is a lot bigger than that. He doesn't say, "fear not, I'm an angel!" or "fear not, I won't hurt you!" He says, "fear not ... for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord." His words offer courage and joy against all their fears.
Lay your fears to rest, shepherds; God has come to us.
Settle your hearts, worriers; He is born unto you.
Take courage, dear ones: Jesus your Saviour is here.
Do not be afraid of the future; the Lord is come.
The angel's announcement that first Christmas night sounded a lot like Isaiah 41:10. That last line of Isaiah 41:10 - I will uphold you with my righteous right hand - I think it was a little foreshadowing of Jesus himself. He, of course, is at God's right hand (Hebrews chapter 8, verse 1). He holds us. He holds us.
And it's the most comforting thing we can cling to. It isn't a promise that nothing is scary, it isn't a wish that everything is easy. It is the outrageous unfurling of pure joy anyway in the face of fear, because Jesus is with us.
Courage, friends. Courage at Christmas and all the year through.
Jesus is with us.